Samuel Bradley and Kat Chan’s debut book documents the food, culture and mystical lands of Shangri-La

Titled Immortal Mushroom, the publication features an array of text and photography – a “time capsule” into the remote mountain location of Yunnan.

25 November 2020

Shangri-La is one of those otherworldly places. Not only has it been described as a utopian, fictional location in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon, it’s also been marked as China’s most culturally and biodiverse province – and for good reason too.

It’s this very landscape that inspired the debut book of photographer Samuel Bradley and Kat Chan, titled Immortal Mushroom. Taking its name from the lingzhi, a medicinal mushroom in Asia, the publication features a spellbinding cover designed by studio Wolfe Hall, not to mention calligraphy by Kat’s mother. And to put it bluntly, we’ve never seen a cover that’s more inviting.

The project first began when Samuel visited Kat at the end of her journey through the Yunnan Province. Arriving in Shangri-La, he’d decided to make a body of photographic work on the area. “But there was very little information available online,” he tells It’s Nice that. “I realised I would have to do research on the ground.”

The duo proceeded to explore the town with a local guide, who showed them the local wet market. “I was watching Kat discussing produce with the local sellers, holding up fruits, vegetables and dried ingredients to show me,” he continues. “There were plenty I recognised, many I didn’t.” A few cryptic diary notes later and the duo began making sculptures around the town, built using fruits and vegetables. The first was a sculpture made of a large cabbage, placed on an unfinished road with a sign in tow. “The cabbage sits in the space where the name of the road will eventually go, the remaining space is taken up by a mountain horizon,” says Samuel. “It’s essentially a strip of tarmac leading from nowhere to nowhere else.”

GallerySamuel Bradley and Kat Chan: Immortal Mushroom (Copyright © Samuel Bradley and Kat Chan, 2020)

Now obsessed with creating these temporary sculptures, the two would spend each day from dawn until sunset laying out their food-based structures in careful consideration. Food, in this sense, became the focal point to the entire project – a topic that Kat became immensely interested in after watching A Bite of China, a Chinese documentary series lensing the ancient food cultures of the country in an “almost Attenborough-esque manner,” she says. With a plan to experience China in a way that opposed the mainstream, Kat spent a month travelling the high altitudes of Shangri-La using “food as a compass,” and her words as the documentation.

Within Immortal Mushroom, Kat’s writing is artfully paired with Samuel’s signature photography style – that which blends immense contrast, high saturation and overexposed everything, angled in a manner that strips his subjects of their usual connotations. Her essays offer a glimpse into the remarkable way of life on Shangri-La, such as “yak cheese, the routine of square dancing, coffee production, the colour gold and the way it manifests in flavour,” she says. “Essentially we wanted to evoke a feeling of being in Shangri-La.” Achieved by adding insight into the smells, sensations, feelings and sights of the mystical location.

As for the book’s contents, Samuel points out a favourite photograph of his: a blurred image of a man on horseback. It was taken during an evening spent in Shangri-La, where they’d discovered a place in the hills just outside of a town called 100 Chickens Temple. “We met the man on the way up to the temple and he explained how he had ridden his horse Coffee 870km across Yunnan, bareback,” says Samuel. “We asked him to hold a large piece of ginger, which you can just see protruding from behind Coffee’s mane.” Rich and overexposed blue sweeps over this image, while the smiling man bellows from behind the horse’s thick main – then there's the extraordinary background, where urban skyscrapers have been swapped for high altitudes, mountains and temples.

Immortal Mushroom isn’t your typical travel documentary publication. Rather, it’s a collaboration that blends fact with fiction, where Kat’s poetic words are intertwined with Samuel’s constructed and overexposed pictures. But this is all very much intentional; you’re not left with much, just an undeniable feeling of wonder that makes you wish you were right there, placed in the middle of the book’s wild and beautiful pages. “I imagine most people would never visit Shangri-La, it’s pretty remote,” concludes Kat. “I thought of the book as a way to introduce a new perspective to a country that many may already have established opinions on, and challenge them. Immortal Mushroom feels like a time capsule.”

GallerySamuel Bradley and Kat Chan: Immortal Mushroom (Copyright © Samuel Bradley and Kat Chan, 2020)

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Samuel Bradley and Kat Chan: Immortal Mushroom (Copyright © Samuel Bradley and Kat Chan, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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